Haiti has been thrown into political turmoil since the 2021 assassination of Jovenal Moïse, which has left the nation without a formerly elected leader. The current acting head of state, Ariel Henry, was appointed by the US-led “Core Group” of foreign occupying nations. Henry has been the target of major protests throughout his tenure. However, international media has largely focused instead on the problem of “gang violence” in Haiti, with Henry’s government citing the issue to call for international military intervention. Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier has been placed in the global spotlight as an emblem of Haiti’s purported “gang problem.” But who is Chérizier really? A new documentary series, Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising, offers a different view of Chérizier—not as the leader of a criminal enterprise, but as a political figure leading an armed revolutionary movement. Directors Dan Cohen and Kim Ives join The Chris Hedges Report to discuss their new project.
You can watch the first episode of Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising here https://www.youtube.com/embed/rlgD5PozR5U.
Dan Cohen is a journalist and co-producer of the documentary Killing Gaza. He is currently the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines https://www.youtube.com/embed/@BehindTheHeadlines/ and MintPress News.
Kim Ives is an investigative journalist and English-language editor at Haïti Liberté.
Studio Production: Adam Coley, David Hebden
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
In Eric Hobsbawm’s book, Bandits, he examined how outlaws, such as Robin Hood and Pancho Villa, transformed themselves into social revolutionaries. The filmmakers, Dan Cohen and Kim Ives have done the same in their three part film, Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising. They tell the story of Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chérizier, who has united half of Port-au-Prince slums through the formation of the Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies. The Armed Neighborhood Federation is in the crosshairs of the US empire, which seeks to discredit it and blame it for the chaos and violence that plagues the country. The filmmakers chronicle Chérizier’s transformation from a stellar member of Haiti’s Police Force into a revolutionary leader, the disinformation campaign waged against him by the US government and Haitian oligarchy, and how his neighborhood is punished for its effective resistance.
The story they tell is one more chapter in the over two centuries of Haitian resistance to outside domination, following the only successful slave revolt in human history, which overthrew the French slave holding class in 1804. Haiti has been paying for this revolt ever since, literally. France only recognized Haiti’s independence on the condition that it repay the slave holders for their lost, quote, unquote, property. Payments that were still being made on that quote, independence debt, end of quote, in the 20th century. The country has been economically crippled since its independence.
The Western powers have installed a series of pliant and corrupt governments. The US repeatedly carried out military interventions, including its invasion and occupation of Haiti from 1915 through 1934. The US formed and trained the Haitian army and police used to crush liberation movements. Washington tolerated the father-son dictatorship of François Papa Doc, and Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier as a counterweight to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The Duvalier’s notorious paramilitary corps known as the Tonton Macoute killed as many as 60,000 Haitians from 1957 to 1986.
Over the 20th century, Washington turned Haiti into a plantation and sweatshop for US corporations leaving the country the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. An anti-imperialist former Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected president in 1990 shocking the US. He was overthrown in a 1991 military coup. He regained the presidency from 1994 to 1996, and from 2001 to 2004 when he was ousted in another coup by right wing ex-army paramilitary units that invaded the country from across the Dominican border. Following that second successful coup, UN troops occupied the country from 2004 until 2019, oversaw the suppression of popular movements, exploited impoverished women in the sex trade, sanctioned the privatization of state industries and social services, and introduced cholera, a disease previously unknown in the country, killing an estimated 10,000 people.
Haiti has been left without a functioning government or infrastructure, including a healthcare system ever since. Nearly 60% of the population lives in poverty, 30% are food insecure, and 50% lack access to clean water. Waves of Haitians have fled the country. Gang violence has turned whole parts of Haiti into lawless enclaves. In 2003, Aristide’s lawyers calculated that France owed Haiti some $22 billion in restitution for the unjust independence debt, and Washington owes a comparable amount of reparations for the crimes committed during its military occupations. But the Western powers are determined to once again thwart the aspirations of the Haitian people who despite it all keep resisting.
Joining me to discuss Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising, which you can watch on YouTube, are its directors, Dan Cohen and Kim Ives. Kim, let’s begin with you and just talk about your own connections with Haiti and what prompted you to make the film.
Well, I was sort of drafted into the Haitian liberation struggle fresh out of school. I jettisoned Harvard to go work in the trenches, as it were. One of my first missions, assignments was to make a film about Haiti, which I did in the period from 1977 to ’83. Won a second prize at Cannes, it was a pretty big deal back in the day. I thought when I’d finished that I was done with my service to the Haitian struggle, but they said, “No, no, we’re starting a newspaper.” So, I’ve been doing Haitian newspapers ever since until this… I mean, also working on another film projects along the way. But this one was sort of our biggest project in many years with Dan Cohen and Uncaptured Media.
Really, our work at Haiti Liberté, which is the paper I work with in my day job, is to create the conditions, the information, the ideological pushback to the dominant narrative. This is a case in point. This is one of the strongest, the newspaper was not enough. People don’t read as much anymore these days. So, film is really the way to go, and we put our all into working on this with Dan. I think it’s going to make a big difference.
There were two points that were made in the film that I thought were very important. One is the what happens when countries like Haiti are ruthlessly exploited by imperial powers that it leads to kind of breakdown that something that, of course, I saw in Central America, where I spent five years in countries like El Salvador, Honduras. That there’s nothing intrinsic within their culture that leads to this anarchy and chaos and lawlessness, but it is the distortions from outside forces. The other thing that I think you did really well in your film is tell the story from the perspective of the resistors who are very effectively demonized. One of the things that you highlight in the film is the complicity of human rights groups who essentially follow the dictates of the State Department and the dictates of those who fund them, the Soros Foundation and et cetera.
Let’s begin, Dan, by talking a little bit about Chérizier, who he is, and why he’s important. And then, maybe we can go into the campaign against him. I mean, how pervasive that campaign is. The media, of course, as you point out, echoes this narrative that essentially discredits him. I mean, I should also note that resistance leaders are uniformly referred to as bandits, as well as Sandino in Nicaragua or anywhere else, but maybe you can speak to that Dan.
Exactly, Chris. Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chérizier, Barbecue is his nickname, which he was given when he was a kid growing up in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Not because, if you watch the Vice documentaries, you’ll hear it’s because he likes to burn people alive, but it’s actually because there were a lot of other Jimmys in the neighborhood. His mother sold grilled meats on the street, and so he just got nicknamed Barbecue. So, it’s kind of a little taste of the propaganda campaign that is waged against Chérizier. But he was a cop, grew up in the slums, became a cop, and did very well. And within the confines of the system, did what he could to protect his neighborhood and do everything he could. But essentially, he was the sacrificial lamb for a political project that the US and the OAS, the Organization of American States, wanted for a sort of regime change in Haiti.
And so, they needed a bad guy, a fall guy, and that became Chérizier. The flaws that he saw in the system where he says, “I couldn’t ever arrest anyone who was of the upper class, who lived up in the hills and in the oligarchy. They were exempt from the law. I could only arrest people who were from my same class, the poor.” And so, those criticisms that he had, suddenly him being sacrificed, poured gas on the fire. He went through essentially a process of radicalization where he went from essentially enforcer of the system to its primary enemy and seeking to overthrow it. That’s something we chronicle in the first episode of the documentary.
Today, if you google Jimmy Chérizier, you’ll see any number of articles that talk about how he is the devil. He’s responsible for all of Haiti’s problems. He’s a mass killer, a mass murderer. He’s carried out numerous massacres. This narrative has emanated throughout the mass media and has been widely accepted in even among progressive orthodox anti-war circles. And so, we really sought to investigate these claims, and we went to the ground, and we talked to people who lived there. We talked to witnesses, and we also examined all of the numerous human rights group reports about these massacres. They all boil back down to the same source, which is a supposed human rights group called the Haitian National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, commonly known as the RNDDH, which is heavily funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, which is essentially a CIA-cutout meddling tool, and also by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, among others.
The leader of the RNDDH, Pierre Espérance is his name, is well known among anti-imperialist who have followed Haiti, because he was a central figure in the 2004 coup d’etat against Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And so, he’s essentially playing a very similar role today, yet has kind of somehow flown under the radar of progressive movements. And so, that’s one of the things that we really highlight in our film. Essentially, Chérizier has been the subject of a very sophisticated disinformation campaign to make him appear as if he is the target. He’s responsible for the country’s problems. And as we know, this kind of character assassination is always the prelude to a physical assassination. That’s kind of what we’re building towards today.
We have a quote in the film about how groups like this do the work of the CIA. I can’t remember the exact quote of where it came from, but just to delineate that quote on its source.
That quote, it is, “We do what the CIA used to do 20 years ago,” something like that. That was in the Washington Post, published in an article by David Ignatius in I think 1991. That quote is attributed to the founder of the National Endowment for Democracy, Allen Weinstein is his name, basically in the 1980s as the CIA was getting a bad reputation for its dirty wars in Central America and South Asia. The US was sort of moving from secret cloak and dagger operations more to so-called democracy promotion. That was the method. So instead of under the table CIA operations, it became above board National Endowment for Democracy operations, which are all over the world today, basically carrying out political maneuvers and regime change operations, and Haiti is one of those examples.
Kim, let’s talk about what Chérizier has done, and we should talk about just on background so people understand the context, the gang violence in the slums of Port-au-Prince, the way various gangs essentially fight over their turf, and Chérizier has now built this alliance, essentially bringing these gangs together. Not only bringing them together, but giving them a kind of political vision. Let’s talk about that, and then we can talk about the campaign against him.
Right. Well, we have to understand the arc of Haiti over the last 40 years when we made Bitter Cane [inaudible 00:14:30] in 1983, 40 years ago, Haiti was essentially an agricultural society. It was 70%, 80% peasant, small peasant production. What happened was neoliberalism glommed under Haiti in an accelerated way after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 and became a kind of a test case, a laboratory, if you will, for US imperial capital penetration. The peasantry was basically driven off the land. Rice was dumped on the country. It used to be self-sufficient in rice, even export rice out of the Artibonite Valley, its rice cradle in the middle of the country. Bill Clinton and the farmers of Arkansas got together and started to dump rice at half price on the country. That was destroyed. Oranges were destroyed. Sugar was destroyed. Pretty soon, you had the peasants fleeing to the cities.
Port-au-Prince, at that time, 40 years ago, was maybe just over 500,000. Today, it’s over 3 million people. This is the case in the other metropolitans around the country, Cap-Haïtien, [inaudible 00:15:55], Jacmel. Most of these people are without jobs. They live in an informal economy selling Coca-Cola and Chiclets on the street, trying to hustle their way. Of course, in this context, you have rise of criminality. This is increased by the fact that you had two coup d’etats against the country in 1991, in 2004. Each one followed by a UN military occupation on the heels of a US/French/Canadian military occupation. Mostly that’s because the third world countries that work for the UN work at half price to what a US Marine gets. So, this basically displaced the Haitian state, which became debilitated. As a result, the police force became practically ineffective and these criminal gangs grew.
In response to them, really since the time of Duvalier’s fall in 1986, there was the phenomenon of what you call vigilance brigades in Haiti, where neighborhoods would band together to keep out the criminals. Previously, it was the former Tonton Macoute who used to maraud after Duvalier fell, and people were just armed with pots and pans and maybe some machetes. But increasingly, these vigilance brigades were hired by the bourgeoisie to guard their warehouse or their factory or their plantation, and they got weapons and they became more and more powerful and strong, and eventually started to go into business for themselves.
This is the story of what happened to Chérizier, because in Lower Delmas, which is one of the most blighted, impoverished parts of Port-au-Prince, there were gangs in his neighborhood. Essentially, when he got into the police, which was really a huge victory for somebody who was basically born in the gutter and grew up just as a street urchin, if you will. He went through school, went to college, got into the police. He’d arrived. And then, here he was with the gangs infesting his neighborhood. He got together with other cops that he was working with, and they drove the guys out. That was in the beginning. But then, when the cops turned on him and tried to hang a botched operation on him, he said, “Man, these people are really no good.” He got the idea, and we explained it in the film of uniting all these gangs, so they were no longer being used as cannon fodder, as the muscle for the bourgeoisie in their political machinations and vendettas against each other, et cetera.
And so, Chérizier, and in fact, one of his big allies, a guy in Cite Soleil called Iscar, was of the same mind. He was a former physics professor. He was pretty educated for coming out of the streets of Cite Soleil. One day, two other gang leaders came to him from a bourgeois who had said, “We’re going to do a campaign to get so-and-so elected.” He said, “Listen, I’m not in it.” And they said, “No, you got to be in it. We told the guy and we took the money.” And he said, “No, I’m not in it. You guys do what you got to do.” They ended up killing his mother as a reprisal for that. So, this sort of cemented a reaction to this criminal gangs among these neighborhoods, and that’s where Chérizier went neighborhood by neighborhood.
It’s not in the film, but we’ve been told stories of how they would invite somebody who like Iscar or Chérizier used to fight against, to come in and join them. People were concerned about his security. Hey, that guy might shoot you, but he said, “No, no, we got to show them that we’re ready to trust them so they’ll trust us.” He’s cobbled together this force through a very articulate, and I could say charismatic campaign, has begun to convince the population of his sincerity and effectiveness despite the barrage of disinformation coming from the Haitian mainstream and US mainstream and French mainstream, et cetera, media, Canadian. Let’s not leave them out. So, it’s a very… That’s really where we are now. We’re in the throes of that ideological struggle right now to push back against the disinformation campaign, which is vilifying him. The same thing I’m sure you’ve seen in your coverage of El Salvador, et cetera, the demonization of people trying to liberate themselves.
Let’s talk a little bit about the social inequality in Haiti. Chérizier talks quite a bit about the ruling oligarchy, which he says comprises about 5% of Haiti and controls about 85% of the wealth. He has a clear or a delineated revolutionary message against the ruling class. For him, this is class warfare. And then, we should be clear that this is an armed insurgency. There are pictures at one point you have of him with an array of automatic weapons behind him. Can you address those issues?
Yeah, Chris. In all of the mainstream media interviews with Chérizier, even the ones that are less foaming at the mouth, they never talk about the demands that he lists out in essentially every interview, which are clean water, food, access to education, good housing, jobs. These are the basic things that everyone needs, and the vast majority, the overwhelming majority of Haitians lack. They lack just basic quality of life. The fact that those go unaddressed by the ruling class in Haiti and the government is the reason why Chérizier taps into this revolutionary fervor, why he’s able to create that.
If you go to areas like Cite Soleil, there are people living… Many hundreds of thousands of people living literally in sewage. This is not by accident. It is a choice of the government, of the international NGOs that pour huge amounts of money into Haiti only to wash it through and line their own pockets. And so, you have the canals that run down Port-au-Prince from the hills and carry sewage, but they’re blocked by trash that has clogged up the canals that are supposed to run out into the Caribbean Sea. Because they’re blocked up, people live in lakes of sewage which breed all kinds of disease. And so, cleaning these up are the demands of the G9, these kinds of things.
On the other hand, you have this incredible wealth, a total contrast up in the hills above Port-au-Prince, of areas like Petion-Ville, where the oligarchy lives. These houses are mansions with Olympic-size swimming pools and helipads. It looks like something out of Beverly Hills, and that’s kind of a side of Haiti that we never see. We only see the poverty, but we don’t see the contrasts, the inequality. And so, that’s one of the reasons that Chérizier is not blaming the people who are living in the slums, but he says, “This is an intentional project carried out by the bourgeoisie who are in cahoots with the United States, who are basically acting on behalf of foreign powers that want to exploit Haiti and maintain the sweatshops for their own profit.”
In terms of arms, this is 100% an armed revolutionary movement. I mean, I’m going to borrow a quote from the great Kim Ives that Chérizier is Aristide with a gun. If you look at the discourse that Chérizier uses, it’s incredibly similar to the discourse of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They talk about class struggle and the conditions that the masses are living in and the need to improve these conditions. Except what happened to Aristide is he was couped two times by the oligarchy in cahoots with the United States. And so, I think sort of Haitian consciousness has learned the lesson that if you don’t have arms, you can’t really carry out any real social revolution. Chérizier is well trained with arms and knows how to use them and knows that they’re very important.
Kim, let’s talk about the campaign against him within Haiti. The government has, I think, issued an arrest warrant for him, although they haven’t acted on it. He, himself, is in physical danger clearly, but speak a little bit about what they’ve done against him and against his movement.
Well, what’s really interesting to me is that I think the US and its allies in Haiti recognized the danger of Chérizier, even before we did. We were publishing the reports of the RNDDH on Chérizier and the so-called massacre in La Saline, really up till 2019. Really, it was in early 2021 that my director sat me down and said, “Listen, Kim, we’ve got it all wrong. This guy is serious. He’s good.” It was almost a reflex because there have been bad guys in the past, in the 1991 to ’94 coup. There was a fellow called Toto Constant who led a death squad called the FRAPH. He was a scoundrel. He was a death squad leader. The same thing for Guy Philippe in the 2001 to 2004 campaign to overthrow Aristide. He was working in the cops, the army, the cops, and tried to make a coup, and finally came back and succeeded in making a coup.
People were just saying, okay, this is the new Toto Constant or the new Guy Philippe. No, this is something else entirely. But they were able to really take that and present it. In a way, the irony is a lot of the struggle we’ve been making to get to truth is not even so much against the mainstream, against the Haitian oligarchy radio stations and newspapers and the US, but even against the left in the US and in Haiti, who I have totally swallowed this line, hook line and sinker.
Kim, let me stop you there because I only have a minute. Just talk specifically because there have been assassination attempts against him, and I think they have killed two of his subordinates, if I’m correct.
Correct. Well, they’re probably more, but we talk about Menino in the film. But more recently, just about seven weeks ago, one of his key allies in the area of La Saline where he holds press conferences, a guy called Ti Junior, was gunned down under still unexplained circumstances. It may have been from within his own core we’re learning or it may have been a rival. But in any case, yes, this is the huge danger. He is extremely exposed, and he’s aware of it. So, this is a tremendous challenge to be able to navigate the treachery of these waters and the people who surely are being sent by US intelligence agencies and others to infiltrate the movement and get close to Chérizier, win his confidence. He already had one fellow who he introduced me to the first time I met him in April of 2021, and he said, “If something happens to me,” he says this all the time, “Something happens to me, this guy will take over.”
Well, this guy turned out to be, in some ways, working for his demise and ended up doing an ambush, where another fellow called Sonson of the Krache Dife group, which was a G9 affiliate, was killed. Chérizier escaped unharmed. But yes, so two that we know of recently have been killed. Menino was killed by the cops. Yes, he’s really up against it, both from within and without. We’re waiting to see what will happen in the coming period where the US has really put a target on him, even got the UN Security Council to identify him as the one person in Haiti to be sanctioned when they took a vote back in November of 2022.
Great. We’re going to stop there. That was Dan Cohen and Kim Ives on their film, Another Vision: Inside Haiti’s Uprising. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.